Health officials are recommending a return to wearing masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for both Clallam and Jefferson counties, joined six other counties Monday with her recommendation on a day when Clallam County confirmed its first 15 cases of the COVID-19 delta variant.
Health officials in King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson, San Juan and Grays Harbor counties announced Monday the recommendation to return to mask wearing as the more contagious delta variant spreads across the state, and case and hospitalization rates continue to increase.
Mask wearing is stressed in settings like grocery or retail stores, churches, government buildings, theaters and family entertainment centers to help ensure easy verification that all unvaccinated people are masked in those settings and as an extra precautionary measure for all, stated a press release from Clallam and Jefferson county health departments.
One alternative for businesses that do not want to require masks indoors would be to verify the vaccine status of all those entering and require masking of those who are unvaccinated, the release said.
As of Monday, about 83 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the nation are from the delta variant, Berry said.
While zero have been confirmed in Jefferson County to date, it’s expected to be circulating in the community and it’s just a matter of time before a case is confirmed through genetic sequencing, she said.
The delta-variant cases confirmed in Clallam County were from more than two weeks ago, Berry said. Due to the two- to four-week delays in genetic sequencing, Berry expects more confirmed delta cases to arise during the next few weeks.
The masking recommendation — which is not a mandate, Berry said — is to attempt to slow the spread of the virus, as vaccination efforts are still short of herd immunity, a range which officials believe will protect the community from the virus, Berry said.
“While the vaccines are incredibly effective, no vaccine is 100 percent,” she said. “We need to get a certain percentage of the population vaccinated before we can rely on them alone, and we just haven’t gotten there yet.
“We’ve seen vaccine efforts stall, and because we have so many susceptible people in our community — and certainly because of the rise of these very contagious variants — we need to add additional measures to keep this virus under control,” she continued.
“There are only kind of three things we can use: vaccines, masks and lockdowns, and I don’t think anyone wants to see a lockdown. We need to use what tools we have available to us, and vaccines alone are not enough, not at the level that we are using them.”
Data compiled by the state Department of Health shows 74.3 percent of Jefferson County residents 12 and older have initiated vaccinations, with 71.3 percent vaccinated, while 68.3 percent of the total population has started vaccinations, and 65.6 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.
Clallam County has vaccinated 64.2 percent of residents 12 and older with at least one dose, with 60 percent fully vaccinated, while 57 percent of the total population has begun vaccinations with 53.3 percent fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.
Over the weekend, Jefferson County confirmed 10 new COVID-19 cases, while Clallam County confirmed 35 new cases, according to county public health data.
The new infections increased the case rates to 122 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Monday in Clallam County, and 72.1 cases per 100,000 for Jefferson County for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.
Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category, while Jefferson County is at the high end of the moderate-risk category.
Clallam County has confirmed 154 COVID-19 cases so far this month, about 9.51 percent of the 1,619 cases reported since the pandemic began, according to county data. Seventeen residents have died of the disease.
Jefferson County has confirmed 43 COVID-19 cases so far this month, about 8.72 percent of the 493 cases reported since the start of the pandemic, according to county public health data. Four residents have died of the virus.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at email@example.com.